The first crop estimates—especially for the staple maize—for the 2015/16 growing season is expected to drop by 2 percent from the final estimated figures for 2014/15 growing season owing to the drought which has hit some parts of the country especially the Southern Region. The estimates were conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.
This puts the first round of crop estimates at 32 percent less than the national requirement of 2.9 million metric tonnes of maize. The hardest hit districts in the south are Machinga, Neno, Mulanje, Balaka, Chikwawa, Nsanje and some parts of Blantyre. Agricultural experts estimate that the second and third crop estimates are likely to put production at much lower—even by 4 percent. Malawi needs 2.9 million metric tonnes of maize for national consumption. Last year’s maize production was 2 719 425 metric tonnes.
At the peak of the hunger period in many parts of the country especially the Southern Region—from December to date—a 50 kg bag of maize by private traders or vendors has been going at K14 000 or K1 400 per 5 litre bucket (bikiri). With the minimum wage at Malawi K18 000, this means real suffering for the majority of Malawians.
Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) and Oxfam also conducted a survey on the crop situation in the country. Their findings are not different from those of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Sensing more hunger and suffering for Malawians from the lean period in October this year to March next year, Cisanet has recommended that government should immediately declare a state of disaster.
It is surprising that when the Minister of Agriculture Allan Chiyembekeza was asked to give his opinion on the position taken by Cisanet, he said he has not seen the Cisanet statement so he cannot comment on it. This is a position that Cisanet has taken after reading the writing on the wall. Surely the answer cannot be that because he has not seen the Cisanet statement, therefore he will not comment on it. Chiyembekeza does not have to first see the Cisanet statement to be able to comment intelligently on it.
It is the same procrastination that has landed the country into the serious economic problem the country is in now. Shortage of maize in the country will always be inflationary.
They say forewarned is forearmed. Last year, many commentators including civil society organizations also advised government to prepare well and early to avoid the panic buying it is doing now. Government was told to allow Admarc to stock enough maize locally. But because of poor planning and procrastination, it did not act on the warning. Instead agro traders bought off most of the maize locally leaving government to fill the food shortage the expensive way—by importing it from Zambia and Tanzania.
Last week, Admarc announced that it had found that agro dealers are keeping as much as 208 000 metric tonnes of maize in their warehouses. If Admarc was funded at the right time, it should have competed with agro traders in buying the maize locally and avoided the scenario government is in.
This year, the message is the same. Admarc should stock enough maize so that come the lean period, government should not be forced to import the grain. We all appreciate that government does not have much money to front load Admarc in readiness for the maize harvest period which is just around the corner in some parts of the country especially when hospitals do not have drugs. Hence the proposal that the parastatal should be empowered to borrow money to buy maize and stock it in its various depots across the country.
Granted this also means the current session of Parliament allowing the grain marketer to borrow money in readiness for the harvest period. Admarc cannot wait for the new budget in July for that task. That will be too late. If anything, the mid-year budget review should have allocated enough money for Admarc to start buying maize locally in May.
Alternatively Parliament can authorize government to use that K10 billion from the sale of the MSB and Indebank lying idle somewhere for the purpose. Government should listen to the voice of reason.